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Veteranen-verhalen / Veteran Stories

Veteran stories of Vernon Raker, veteran of the 321sth Field Artilley Battalion, A Battery, of the 101st Airborne Division
(By Geurt van Rinsum)

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1) Vernon Raker at left and Ray Nagell, both of the 321st Glider Field Artillery Battallion, flank deputy Mayor Mittendorf of Eindhoven.
Author Geurt van Rinsum, is behind them on the right.
) Vernon Raker (right), Ray Nagell and a US Army Captain at the Monument to the Dutch in St. Oedenrode.

Vernon Raker, veteran of the 321st Field Artillery Battalion, A Battery, of the 101st Airborne Division, was a guest in our house twice for a week or so. And I’ve met him in Holland a third time, but was also once his guest in California for about four of five days. The first time Raker came to us he was only with his daughter Eloise. The second time his son was also with him. We had only one bedroom for two free, so his son slept  on a mattress in the living room that time. We had inherited from my sister in law a real big and nice clock, with a gong in it. Also from my mother who had passed away just before the Rakers visited us,
I had got some from my Mother also. I had married my second wife after we both had lost our husbands and she had also brought some clocks in our house. So, 6 or 7 of them were hanging in our living room and open kitchen.
But, when we awakened the first morning during the visit of the Rakers, all our clocks were silent !
Raker's son told that he could not sleep from al the 'ding dong' during the night, and had stopped all the clocks. How amusing!
Vernon, who was commander of a gun crew, told me some stories which I’ve kept in my mind.
He told:

“I don’t remember anymore were it happened. But one day in the war we were not far from the frontline. At one night, after the first hour of sleep, the whole battery was awakened in a hurry and we got the order to fire with all guns and as fast we could on a train in German territory.  Our forward observers , who knew that there was a railroad close behind the enemy's line of resistance, could hear train ride, we later learned. Choo, Choo, Choo !!
Most likely reinforcements for the Germans, that must be sure!!
After some time of shooting at the German train, our Lieutenant said:  “The observers said we got it. The train stopped. We can go to sleep again!”
We went to sleep.  But after little over an hour, we again had to get up suddenly and to shoot with everything we had at the train. After that, we hit the sack again.
But about an hour and a half later there was another train riding and we were ordered to shoot at it. That happened several times that night.
The next morning the Forward Observers heard the Germans calling through a loudspeaker something like this:  “Hi guys! You did ’t have a good sleep tonight, we guess. Have you enjoyed our recorder with the sound of a train?  But you can come over to us, we have breakfast with ham and eggs, you can take part in it” !
Those Krauts had tricked us the whole night. !! ”

He also told me once:
“One day during a quiet period at  the front our gun crew had neglected to clean up the equipment in time, but also ourselves and the uniforms. We were very tired. Everything was dirty. And some of the men went away, gone to a farmer to require some fresh straw for our sleeping holes. I was busy with a shovel to wipe out the wet mud of our gun pit. 
Completely unexpected General  McAuliffe and some of his Staff Officers appeared!! (Because General Taylor, the Division Commander, was in the States when the Germans launched their attack of the Battle of the Bulge, McAuliffe was substitute Division Commander )
Because I was in Command of the gun, I walked towards him, away from my crew, and presented the gun crew.

I feared what would
follow, when he would come close to the guns and inspect the whole situation! But just when we started to talk , the Germans gave us a barrage of shooting and the shells came down not far away!
Everybody fell on the muddy ground for safety, and looked for protecting.
After the shooting, the General and his Staff Officers stood up, cleaned their clothes, but did not come to our gun pit or inspect it, but disappeared right after the shooting ended. 

"O boy, believe me, that was the only time in the war that I was glad to receive a barrage of German shells  pretty close to us!“

 The 101st Airborne Division was at Bastogne, Belgium, cut off from other Allied forces and surrounded by the Germans for a week.
This town was an vital cross point for roads and railroads in all directions, so the Germans wanted to occupy it and attacked often.
About this time Vernon told; “We had some tough days near Bastogne . We had to fire in all directions for some days. But that meant that we had to turn  that heavy gun in the mud of the gun pit in other directions, every time. Real hard work. Once we were busy with it for 24 hours or longer.
I don’t remember exactly how long. But sure,  the whole crew was very , very tired, exhausted after such a long time of hard labor !! 
So was I. I was the gun commander!
At that point our Lieutenant appeared again, and said words like;  “Corporal, you have to fire a mission again, but must turn your gun in another direction!"
And he wanted to give me more details.
But I had had enough, and I burst out at him: “If you want to fire, do it by yourself,  because we won’t turn that damn gun in another direction again”.
Well, this refusal of doing my work, especially in front of my crew and at this officer, could get me court marshaled, but that did not bother me anymore, I was to tired!
The Lieutenant , who knew very well that we had done a lot of work and sure must be very tired, said nothing, and went away.
But he had a better, or at least,  a better working brain than I had!
Anyhow, after that the Lieutenant had walked some distance away, he turned and came back.
Than he said some words to me like:
Vernon. Listen, The boys in the frontline need your help and your fire. When they don't get it, they probably will be overrun by the Krauts and be killed. And the defense line can be broken by that also. I ask you again to fire!"
Those words from this good and smart Lieutenant, whom we all liked, turned my stubborn mind and we moved the gun around and fired the rounds were he wanted them.
Sure this saved me from court marshall, but more importantly,  it saved American lives in the frontline also !!

Vernon Raker was a history teacher at a high school after the war.
Vernon is still alive and in good condition, except for his knees, which he damaged by jumping, like a lot of the parachutists have problems with their knees nowadays.

He is
in good health although he smokes very, very heavily.

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